Monday, December 26, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 26th December 2005

As published in the "Bahrain Tribune"

It was the American genius and iconoclast R. Buckminster Fuller who said “Those who play with the devil's toys will be brought by degrees to wield his sword” and whilst it was not Formula one that was in his sights when he said it, it might well have been. The growth of modern F1 has been built on the devils toy of tobacco sponsorship and there were few more vocal defenders of the rights of the tobacco giants to promote their brands than the leaders of the sport. It is no exaggeration to say that the commercial basis of Formula one, and the billionaire wealth of its presiding spirit Bernie Ecclestone, has been mostly built on the willingness of tobacco company sponsors to allocate almost unlimited funds to the sport. But this is changing as legislation gradually takes its grip and this is one of the reasons (but not the only one) that the future of the sport is so uncertain.

When the Formula one circus begins its long 2006 trek in Bahrain in March all the participants will know that the future of the sport is cloudy, to say the least. Federation Internationale Automobile (FIA) President Max Mosley has recently bemoaned the fact that it is extremely difficult to reach any agreement with all the Team owners as to the future of the sport once current arrangements expire at the end of the 2007 season. The difficulties are directly attributable to the disappearance of tobacco company sponsors and the opportunity that this has given to the motor manufacturers to tighten their grip on the sport. When the tobacco giants ruled the roost their business case was predicated on the fact that other brand promotion outlets were being increasingly closed to them. Nobody, not even the motor manufacturers, could compete with that sort of money. Ten years ago, for example, all of the main teams in the world championship (Williams, McLaren, Jordan, Ferrari, and Benetton) were backed by tobacco dollars. The involvement of car companies was only as the supplier of engines, not as prime sponsor. In the 2006 season five of teams are in business overtly to promote a motor manufacturers brand (Mercedes, BMW, Renault, Honda and Toyota) and the independents are in decline. From ten years ago only McLaren and Williams remain, and it is clear that the former is more and more a works Mercedes team. Ferrari, as ever, remains a special case!

In many ways you might think that the increasing involvement of motor manufacturers in F1 has to be good for the sport, after all those with very long memories will go back to the days when most of the teams were car companies, albeit rather special ones (Alfa Romeo, Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes, Lancia…). The difference is that today the sport is so international and so visible that it is primarily a vehicle (no pun indented) for the big car companies to promote their brands. And the funds that they allocate to this almost defy belief. Some of the constructors have budgets in excess of $400 million for 2006 and this is the sort of money that is not sustainable in the longer term and which is a huge barrier to entry to new teams. Whilst the new “Midland” team may also have plenty of money from its Russian owners they, and the other remaining independents (Williams, Red Bull and 'Super Aguri') have little chance of securing many points in 2006.

The FIA is struggling to sign up teams to their preliminary proposals for a new agreement to take effect from the 2008 season largely because the motor manufacturer teams won’t play ball and continue to threaten to set up their own championship. Recent events have shown that the propensity of these car company teams to throw money after success has not declined. Fernando Alonso did not leave Renault for any other reason than that he was, quite literally, made a financial offer that he could not refuse (and who could blame him?).

The position of Ferrari amongst all these power struggles is interesting. They are signatories to the FIA’s proposals, and this suggests that they are not really willing to continue to provide unlimited funding. In recent years Ferrari has been the best financed F1 team, but their owners (Fiat) get no brand value from Ferrari’s presence and the economics of allocating F1 costs to their luxury Ferrari car brand don’t stack up. Like the independents it is in Ferrari’s interest to have a rather leaner F1 model in the future.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Sports review of the year 2005

As published in the "Bahrain Tribune"

We sometimes forget that every sportsman or woman who earns a living as a professional is quite exceptionally good at their sport. Even the humblest of journeymen pros on the PGA tour, or the man who “just” plays cricket for his county or state, or the footballer in the lower divisions of a league is hugely talented by the standards of ordinary mortals. Watching Arsenal versus Chelsea last weekend it was no surprise that every player on the park could trap the ball with ease and pass the ball thirty or forty metres with precision – that’s the bare minimum of what they have to be able to do to be a paid footballer! But to take them into the super star category (and every player at Highbury was certainly in that league) they have to have much more than the “basic” skills. So as I look back through 2005 and review the five sporting stars who shone most brightly during the year it is always those with that something extra which stand out.

Valentino Rossi
In 2005, at the age of 26, Valentino Rossi became the MotoGP World Champion for the sixth successive year proving beyond doubt that he is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, rider of a motorcycle that the world has ever seen. Rossi does things that other riders just don’t do. He uses his brakes in situations where if other riders did the same they would fall off their machines. He shifts his balance on his Yamaha quite differently from other riders to coax that tiny bit of extra grip or speed that makes the difference. Indeed he and his motorcycle are one unit at all times and this relationship owes more to the Arts than it does to Science. You could not do a scientific model of Rossi’s skills because they transcend the mundane input/output mechanics that science requires. Rossi is Mozart, not Newton.

Fernando Alonso
When Fernando Alonso won a Grand Prix for the first time in 2003 he was only just 22 years old, an almost Valentino Rossi like precocity. And like Rossi it was soon clear that Alonso was a driver with that extra quality that was likely to place him amongst that small number of Formula one greats. But for Alonso to succeed ahead of Schumacher, or Raikkonen or Montoya in 2005 he had to have a reliable and quick vehicle on which to perform. When Renault delivered such a car there was, literally, no holding the young Spaniard back. Alonso was on the podium for an astonishing fifteen of this year’s nineteen Grands Prix and he won seven of them. We will have an opportunity to see the extent to which Alonso, like Rossi, has the innate ability to succeed whatever the team when he moves to McLaren in the 2007 Formula one season. The news that Alonso is deserting Renault, who gave him his championship opportunity, is surprising and it will also place Alonso under pressure during the 2006 season. If he retains his world championship despite the understandable coldness that might be present in the Renault garage it will be an even greater achievement than his 2005 win.

Andrew Flintoff
When Andrew Flintoff first burst on the cricket scene at international level in 1998 it was obvious that here was an all round cricketer of exceptional natural talent. But it took quite a time for him to break through and many of his early England appearances were characterised by short cameo innings and the occasional wicket taking delivery, but not by any consistency or sign that he had a real cricket brain. He also found it difficult to keep fit and injury free and (as the Australians called it) “tubbed up like a pot of lard”. But over the last couple of years “Freddie”, under Duncan Fletcher’s guidance and Michael Vaughan’s leadership has become the outstanding all-rounder in world cricket. 2005 was his Annus Mirabilis and it is no hyperbole to say that without him England would not have regained the Ashes. For all his fame and sudden fortune Flintoff is a man who is more than just a sporting star and the dominant image of the year has to be his consoling of Brett Lee at Edgbaston when England had just snatched a remarkable victory from the Aussies grasp.

Annika Sorenstam
Sorenstam had an almost Rossi like run of success in 2005 winning an astonishing eleven of the twenty-one tournaments she entered in 2005, including two majors. This was twice the win percentage of Tiger Woods in the same year (and the Tiger had one of his best ever years!). Any golfer will know that tournament victories at any level are rare and even the very best golfers would be happy with (say) two in any one season. To win eleven in the increasingly competitive world of Women’s golf is extraordinary. This success puts into context young Michelle Wie about whom much of the golfing hype has been this year. Wie is good, but has yet to really compete for victory in any tournament and she would perhaps be well advised to look at the remarkable Sorenstam for inspiration.

Daniel Carter

The New Zealand rugby fly half shares with my other players of the year that unique ability to do things that others cannot do, however hard they try. Like Rossi caressing his motorcycle Carter moves with a grace and a power that leaves others standing forlornly in his wake. Whereas other formidable All Blacks like Jonah Lomu or Tana Umaga have relied substantially on their bulk to slice open defences Carter moves his 97 kilos with the elegance of a ballroom dancer. He plays in a fine team, which helps of course, but Carter was the inspiring force which made the All Blacks unstoppable throughout the year and which also made them my sports “Team of the Year”.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 12th December 2005

As published in the "Bahrain Tribune"

A few years ago I was lucky enough to be at a charity golf event where the two main participants were Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. They both signed a golf cap for me which I proudly wear in the forlorn hope that some of their magic will rub off on me (it hasn’t, of course!). On those occasions when you do rub shoulders with the sporting greats (overused word, but not for these two) you get a chance to try and spot what it is that makes them different and with Nicklaus, in particular, what struck me was his powers of concentration. The event itself didn’t matter that much, but when he was at play Jack never for one moment let his concentration wander – he was focused all the time. Match that with a sublime talent to strike the ball cleanly and an absolute determination to win and you have the recipe for success.

When Jack Nicklaus walked down the 18th hole at St Andrews for the last time this year at the Open Championship there was genuine warmth in the farewell he received from everyone there. It was 35 years since his first Open win at this historic course when, at the age of 30, he was perhaps at his peak and, whilst he may walk a little more stiffly these days, and he is not the “Golden Bear” of old, he can still play a bit. If that was the nostalgic moment to savour from the 2005 golf year the main golfing story was the “comeback” of Tiger Woods. For the Tiger all things are relative and I suppose that by his imperious standards 2005 has to be seen as a return to form after a couple of lean years. He dominated the PGA tour (six victories, including major wins at the Masters Tournament and The Open Championship) and seemed back to his very best. Woods has now won 10 majors which puts him third in the all time list behind Nicklaus (18) and Hagan (11). The other Major winners this year (Mickelson at the PGA and Michael Campbell at the US Open) are also world class (unlike one of two of the “One Win wonders” of recent years). Campbell followed his first big win for a while with another at the World Match Play later in the year - a welcome and deserved return to form for this most talented of players. Expect more from the young New Zealander in 2006.

For Ernie Els the year was blighted by a knee injury that he picked up in July and he was out of competitive golf for much of the season. But once Ernie was fit again it didn’t take him too long to get back into winning ways and his win in the Dunhill in South Africa last week shows that he is swinging well again. It was the year for comebacks, and Colin Montgomerie was another who got back to form in style. If Jack Nicklaus is a master of concentration then Monty is the master of intensity. He has a face which always betrays his feelings and his thoughts and can there ever have been a more intense character at the top of professional golf? His successes this year (which led to a win in the European order of merit for the eighth time) have carried him into the world’s top ten at the age of 42, a remarkable achievement. Wearing your heart on your sleeve, as Montgomerie always has, does not always make you popular but there is no doubt that if Monty could somehow win that elusive first Major victory in 2006 it would be a very popular win indeed both amongst his fans and amongst his fellow professionals.

There was a symbolism about St Andrews this year with Jack Nicklaus playing his last tournament and Tiger Woods in unbeatable from. The mantle of champion had perhaps already been passed from Jack’s tight grasp but this year we began to see the title of the “Greatest” being passed as well. Woods elegantly referred to Nicklaus as the “Greatest” after the tournament, but it is now quite clear that the Tiger himself is not far behind. In 2006 we can expect that Woods, Els, Mickelson, Singh and (I think) Campbell will lead they money list and I hope to see these Major winners joined, if not by Montgomerie, then by young turks like Luke Donald or Sergio Garcia. The golfing year ahead looks full of promise.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 5th December 2005

As published in the "Bahrain Tribune"

At the end of the third day in the first Test match between Pakistan and England at Multan the home side had clawed their way back into a match that seemed to be slipping away from them. Although at 125-2 in their second innings they still trailed England by 19 runs there was hope that they could bat well on the third day and perhaps get into a position to cause England some trouble in their second innings on a crumbling pitch. When the night watchman was out early the next morning the stage was set for Pakistan’s captain Inzamam-ul-Haq and he did not let his team down. He supported Salman Butt in a stand of 135, scoring 72 priceless runs off 172 balls. It was a Captain’s innings, and it set up an unlikely win for Pakistan. And Inzy continued to lead by example in the next two Tests to help Pakistan deservedly win the series.

When fine batsman become Captain in can sometimes affect the quality of their batting. Michael Vaughan is a case in point. In the 31 Test matches he played for England before he became Captain he averaged 51. In the 33 Test matches he has played as Captain he averages 36. Vaughan is a very good captain indeed, but his batting has suffered. Inzamam is the reverse. In the 88 Test he played before he became Captain he averaged just under 50. In the 16 matches he has played since being made Captain permanently in October 2003 he averages 63. He clearly relishes the challenge and, more surprisingly, has not let the cares of leadership trouble him at the crease.

Shortly before Inzy became Captain I wrote “Can there be a more enigmatic, brilliant, troubled player in any sport than the extraordinary Pakistani batsman Inzamam-ul-Haq? To paraphrase Lowell “three-fifths of him is genius and two-fifths sheer clown” and when you go to watch him play you are never sure whether it will be clown or genius that you will see”. Inzy’s performances in the 2003 Cricket World Cup (scores of 6; 4; 0; 0; 6 and 3) had been so dire that he was left out of Pakistan’s team for the England tour and one wondered whether he would ever play International cricket again. But the Pakistan selectors brought him back and soon made him Captain – it was an inspired move which took a while to blossom, but is now paying dividends.

Inzy has now Captained Pakistan to five wins and one draw in his last six Tests as Captain. Pakistan’s only recent Test defeat was against the West Indies in May when Younis Khan led the side when Inzy was injured. From the reaction of the players throughout the England series it is clear that they all revere their Captain and will do all they can to work hard for him. Even the mercurial Shoaib Akhtar and the “show pony” Shahid Afridi perform well under Inzy’s command. Even more importantly the young players who are new to the side like Salman Butt and Kamran Akmal have really progressed and look fixtures in the side.

That quite late in his career Inzamam has proved to be a skilled leader is a surprise, but that he has established himself as one of Pakistan’s all time great batsmen is not. He is more than just an “anchor man” (although he certainly can hold an innings together and he bats well with the tail). Inzy has the ability to change his style and approach in keeping with the circumstances and now that he is Captain you suspect that he takes this responsibility particular seriously. The ultimate test lies ahead when India visits Pakistan in January. There is always unpredictability about Pakistani cricket which makes fools of forecasters. That used to be the case with Inzamam-ul-Haq as well - which Inzy would come out to play? But the mature Inzamam, as proud Captain of his national side with a series win against Australia’s recent conquerors under his belt, is a different prospect. The Test series versus India will make compelling viewing, and with India in some disarray at the moment Pakistan are favourites. A convincing home series win against India might even put the recent celebrations after beating England in the shade!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Old Trafford Ashes Test match

As published in "The Emirates Evening Post"

Old Trafford Ashes Test
Paddy Briggs

Day One

After the frantic pace of the First Test at Lord’s, and the unequalled excitement of the Second Test at Edgbaston, we were back to something like normal Test cricket at Old Trafford yesterday. Modern Test cricket, that is – not the sort of grinding stuff that we used to see. There was an Ashes Test on the same ground 41 years ago when Australia scored 253-2 on the first day, and that was pretty swift for those times. Today’s Test cricket is played at a far faster pace and although England’s 341 off 89 overs at 3.83 an over was slower than we have been accustomed to in this series, it was still entertaining stuff.

The Old Trafford wicket looked firm and true, with a bit of bounce, and it was a good toss for Michael Vaughan to win. That Glenn McGrath was fit to play was a surprise, and it seemed to be a justified risk for Australia to play him as he was soon in the groove. Indeed he was extremely unlucky to finish the day wicketless with Trescothick being dropped by Gilchrist and later beating and clean bowling Vaughan, but off a no ball. Brett Lee, who spent two nights in hospital with his knee infection, was also declared fit and with 3-58 was the pick of the Aussie attack. Gillespie had another woeful day and conceded 89 runs in his 15 overs, and Shane Warne (for once) toiled a little on a pitch which offered him little assistance. Warne’s delight when he became the first bowler to take 600 Test wickets when he got Trescothick caught behind was justified and it was also good to see the knowledgeable and generous Old Trafford crowd give him a standing ovation.

If England could have selected two prizes to take from the day at the start it would have been the return to form of Vaughan and the coming of age of Bell. Both happened and, most importantly, Vaughan played as well as he did when he scored 633 runs at an average of 63.3 during the 2002-03 Ashes series. Vaughan’s overall record against the Australians is rather weird. He has been dismissed eleven times for 160 runs (average 14.5 top score 41), but in his other four innings he has scored 177; 145; 183 and now 166. He certainly looked back to his best yesterday and he will be disappointed to have mishooked a full toss from the part time bowler Katich down Glenn McGrath’s throat - a tame dismissal. Kevin Pietersen also mishooked and was caught in the same way near the close of play and he may need to limit his shot making a bit in such circumstances in future. Bell, on the other hand, was circumspect through most of the day, although a couple of lusty boundaries off Warne showed his attacking ability. He played the sort of innings that England have missed since Thorpe left the side - 59 runs off 146 balls – and he, unlike Pietersen, he will start again tomorrow.

If England can add another hundred or so tomorrow and reach a total of 450 plus then they can put Australia under pressure. But with the weather (as always at Manchester) a little uncertain, and the pitch still playing well, the outcome of this Test match might just be that rare thing a draw – but there is a long way to go.

Day Two

The true test of greatness of any player or team is not seen when they keep on winning and carry all before them on a roll, when they are in adversity. We saw how the Australians did this at Edgbaston and so nearly pulled off a sensational victory, so anyone who is ruling them out of the Old Trafford Test would be well advised to keep quiet for a day or two! But the looks on the faces of the Aussie team (shown towards the end of the day’s play on the big screen at the ground) showed how unfamiliar the “backs to the wall” situation that they now find themselves in is to most of them. At 210-7 Australia are 234 runs behind England and 35 runs short of avoiding the possibility of a follow-on.

In the run up to this Test we had the saga of Lee’s knee infection and McGrath’s recovery from his ankle problem and whilst both bowled heroically they could have done with support from Jason Gillespie in England’s innings, support which was sadly absent. A three pronged pace attack comprising two recently injured players and one dolefully out of form was hit for 300 of England’s 444. Contrast this with the performance of England’s four pronged attack all of whom were fit and raring to go. Surely the form of at least two of the four would be good and so it proved with Flintoff (as ever) - and Simon Jones sharing four of the seven Aussie wickets that fell. Significantly it was Ashley Giles who took the other three and it looks as if the pitch suits him nicely! He has 3-66 in 21 overs so far and, for once in his life, his performance can be spoken of in the same breath as that of Shane Warne (4-99 in 33.2 overs). Giles’s ball which bowled Damien Martyn was one that even the great man would have been proud of.

For Michael Vaughan the fact that he has four quality pace bowlers in his side will be a crucial factor if he does have the opportunity to force the follow on. Certainly his attack will be fresh in the morning and with the weather still a bit iffy he may ask Australia to bat again if he gets the chance. If this happens it will be Australia’s first follow-on for an amazing 17 years! If not, I don’t think that Vaughan will be too unhappy because a lead of around 200 should be sufficient to provide England with a platform from which to set Australia a very tough total to get in the fourth innings on a crumbling pitch and with Giles bowling well.

But cricket’s history is illuminated by improbable recoveries from dire circumstances (Headingley 1981 and Calcutta 2001 for example). So I’m making no predictions!

Day Three

Only 14 overs were possible at a very damp Old Trafford, but they could prove to be the most important overs of this match. Australia added fifty runs without losing a wicket, and they saved the follow on. A missed stumping and a dropped catch by Geraint Jones (both from Warne) have cost England dearly. With the confident Warne still at the crease, and in sight of his first Test century, the Aussies could significantly close the gap with England’s first innings on Sunday morning. If they can narrow the gap to what it was at Edgbaston (99 runs), which would mean a total of 345, there would be some real nerves when England come out to bat again. Can Warne and the numbers 9, 10 and 11 again add another 80 runs or so? Don’t bet against it.

Those who know Shane Warne well always attest to the brilliance of his cricketing brain. That he would be on the team sheet of the “All-time-great XI” for his unique bowling talent goes without saying. But his batting and his all round feel for the game, combined with his ebullient self-confidence, make him a more than valuable team member in other respects as well. Had his private life been a little more conventional he would probably have been Australia’s captain after Steve Waugh, but then a “conventional Warne” is not really very likely. Few would begrudge him a hundred tomorrow, providing, that is, that England can still get a lead of at least 150!

If we have two full days (the weather forecast suggests that we might) there is still time for a result in this match. England will be desperate to avoid the nail biter of Edgbaston so will be looking to set Australia at least 350 in their second innings and also leave themselves enough time to bowl them out a second time. Early wickets tomorrow, a lead of 150 and then two good session scoring around 200 runs could set England up to make inroads before the close. But Australia will be unlikely to accommodate them in this ambition and we can expect a further sting from the tail with Warne relishing the possibility of being the fourth cricketer in history to score a hundred and take ten wickets in a match (the others were Alan Davidson; Ian Botham and Imran Khan).

Day Four

One of the reasons that Test matches presents the ultimate cricket challenge is the need for Captains constantly to be reassessing their options throughout the match, especially in the field. In a one day match you pretty much know who you will bowl and when and what your field placings will be. There is some room for innovation and for conjuring up the odd surprise, but not much. In Test cricket there are few restrictions on the Captain and within the Laws of the game he can pretty much bowl who he like and when he like and place his fielders where he likes. This adds greatly to the interest that the game creates and, in modern times certainly, creates an absorbing spectacle when the two sies are evenly matched.

In the Old Trafford Ashes Test, which enters its final day tomorrow, I would award most of the captaincy prizes to Michael Vaughan who has not only led from the front with his wonderful batting in the England first innings but also showed an originality both in his filed placings and in his handling of his bowling attack that has set him ahead of Australia’s Ricky Ponting. There is also the small matter of leadership and here Vaughan also has the edge. Obviously it does help if you are playing well, as England have throughout this match, but when the heads fall it is up to the captain to try and get them up again, and Ponting is struggling to do this. When Steve Waugh led Australia there was not the slightest doubt who was in charge on and off the field. Ponting is a little less authoritative and not quite as driven as Waugh (who is?) and this has perhaps frustrated some of the old pros in the Australian team. And, Clarke and Katich apart, they are all old pros in the Australian team! So although the tabloid stories of a rift between Ponting and Shane Warne are probably greatly exaggerated there is a sense that all is not quite what it might be in the Australian camp. This shows itself on the field with sloppy fielding and at times wayward bowling, and it has shown up as well in the Aussie batting where the main contribution in recent innings has come from Warne and the tail rather than from the front line batsmen.

If Australia is to force a draw( or an improbable win) at Old Trafford tomorrow then it must come from the top line batsmen who have in the main underperformed in the Ashes series to date. It is worth reminding ourselves that five of Australia’s top six in the order in the first innings of this match (Langer, Hayden, Ponting, Martyn and Gilchrist) are in the top 17 in the ICC world Test rankings – but these players scored only 122 runs between them. It was only Shane Warne’s marvellous 90 and the back up he received from Gillespie that gave Australia a half respectable total of 301.England built on the lead of 142 with some skilful batting in their second innings - to score 280 runs at 4.5 an over was an excellent effort, with Andrew Strauss scoring a century and showing, for the first time in this series, the form that has given him such a great start in Test cricket.

Some in the Australian camp will feel that if they could be (say) 130-1 at lunch and then (say) 260-2 at tea then they could push on to a world record setting victory in what will be a long final session tomorrow. On the other hand there will be those who will think that a more realistic ambition is to bat through the day and go to Trent Bridge all square. The England camp will all believe that if they continue to play with the intensity and confidence that they have shown throughout this match then England can certainly force a win. The improbable headline in one of the Saturday papers here in Manchester was “Giles leaves Australia in tatters” (following his first innings haul of the wickets of Langer, Hayden and Martyn). Such a headline would have seemed inconceivable a few weeks ago but if it was repeated in a day’s time it would not really be a surprise - the Old Trafford pitch may give him help and he is (crucially) full of confidence.

Day Five

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American and therefore unlikely to be a cricket enthusiast, who said “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” And that was, really, the story of the final day’s play in the epic Old Trafford Ashes Test match. The hero was the Australian captain, Ricky Ponting, who played one of the very greatest rearguard innings in Test history to hold England at bay and to create the possibility of a draw with honour. It was not that Ponting survived; but that he did it with style and that he endured until almost the end of the Final Act of the drama. The statistics of the innings, whilst impressive, are almost trivial because this was an innings not measured by the cold banality of the scorer’s pen, but in the character of the man who achieved so much. The figure tell of an innings which lasted 275 balls, which was 42% of all the balls that England bowled; they tell of an innings of 156 runs, which was 42% of the runs that Australia scored and they tell of an innings that lasted over seven hours on a day of nearly eight hours of extraordinary tension. But the character, for this observer at least, came not just from the fact that Ponting’s effort was ultimately successful but from events an hour or so before the close.

Ponting and Warne had put on about 65 runs and at 325-7 around about the 90th over they were beginning to run urgently between the wickets. A quick calculation showed that with 108 overs to be bowled in the day, and with 423 runs needed to win, a scoring rate of a little over 5 an over could bring them victory. Suddenly the commentators who had written off Australia’s chances throughout the day were beginning to muse that perhaps Ponting and Warne thought that a win was possible. The England fielders picked up the vibes as well and what had seemed destined to be a match with only two possible results turned into one where the chasing of a record target became a real possibility. That Warne’s dismissal when the score had reached 340 put a stop to that adventure was, for the neutrals at least, a shame - but there was no doubt that for a few sparkling moments the impossible seemed possible.

When Ponting himself was finally dismissed with five overs to go it seemed that England would force a win. But Lee played skillfully and England was allowed to direct only nine of the remaining thirty balls at McGrath. He survived them, and with his survival Australia held on to a remarkable draw.

Many years ago I took an American friend to Lord’s and tried to explain to him the intricacies of the noble game. Some of it he picked up quite quickly, but there was one statistic that he couldn’t cope with. “Let me get this right,” he said “You can play this game for five whole days and at the end it can be a tie?” Without illuminating him too pompously that “ties” in cricket were rare but that “draws” were common I said something like “Oh yes, cricket mirrors life – you might not always be able to win, but you fight like hell not to let the other chap win either.” Australia and England fought like hell for five days at Old Trafford, no quarter given or asked. As at Edgbaston the ultimate margin between the two sides was thinner than the varnish on a stump. It was a game which England could, and perhaps should have won. But when the handshakes took place between the two sides although England were deflated, as Australia had been only a week earlier, there was pride amongst all who had taken part that they had given the public another great sporting spectacle. And for “man of the match” Ponting, who handled with dignity last weeks loss and with pride this weeks fight back, there will be the satisfaction that the doubters must now salute him as an authentic Australian hero.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 9th August 2005

From: "The Emirates Evening Post"

There is an old joke, dating from the 1980s when a stock market and property boom in Japan created hundreds of new multi-millionaires. One of these wanted to buy his son a present for his coming-of-age and asked his son what he would like. His son said that he would like a really good set of golf clubs - so the millionaire bought him Wentworth, Sunningdale and Turnberry! For the Mega rich to become involved in sport is, of course, not a joke these days but a reality. It has always been the case that wealthy Americans have indulged their sports passions by buying Football, Hockey or Baseball teams. These were rarely, if ever, hard nosed business decisions but nearly always indulgences that were driven not by economics but by emotion. Whilst there is plenty of money in these sports most of it goes to players and their agents rather than to the entrepreneurs who hold the team's stocks. But in recent times there has been, in some cases, a more commercial driver behind some businessmen's involvement in sport - and this is certainly the case with the Glazer family's take-over of Manchester United.

The creation of the "Premier league" in English football just over a decade ago meant that all of the top clubs had to be more commercial and far better funded than before. Some of this funding came from TV rights revenues and from hugely increased sponsorship and sports goods marketing. But if a club was to succeed it had also to seek more conventional sources of a funds - usually from a stock market flotation. Manchester United were the classic model; their flotation as a limited liability company allied with the powerful exploitation of their brand, allowed them to mine a rich vein of revenues. This money in turn gave United the edge in the transfer market and they were able to make many star signings and this was one of the main contributing factors in their success. However the very fact that they were no longer a private club, but now a stock exchange traded business, left them vulnerable to take-over. The American Malcolm Glazer, although initially rebuffed by the United board, persevered and eventually took full control of the club this year.

Whilst the Glazer approach would appear to be mainly commercially driven (certainly the Glazers don't seem to know much about "soccer") the story of Chelsea and Roman Ambramovitch is rather different. Where Glazer, although a rich man, has not put much of his own money into Manchester United (he has borrowed heavily to fund the deal) Ambramovitch's purchase of Chelsea is a purely personal one. This man, who is rich almost beyond comprehension from his Russian oil industry fortune, has bought Chelsea as a plaything. He shows few signs of wanting his investment to produce a return and is equally happy to put more money up for even more new star players if his manager tells him it is necessary. This gave Chelsea the 2004/2005 Premiership title.

The Glazer take-over of Manchester United has been roundly criticised by many of the club's fans who see the fine traditions of the club being put at risk by this American carpetbagger. At Chelsea, however, the reverse is the case and most fans are quite happy that their club is now Russian owned and relish in its new nickname "Chelski"! I have a funny feeling, however, that in the end it may be the fans of Manchester United rather than those of Chelsea who are ultimately the happier. For Ambramovitch Chelsea is a plaything - an amusing diversion from his mainstream imperative of staying rich and becoming richer. For the Glazers, however, Manchester United is a business and they will expect it to perfom. In the short term this will be uncomfortable for some of the fans as ticket prices and other costs of being a supporter are bound to increase. But to establish a sound cash-generating business at Old Trafford should ensure that the team continues to compete at the very top in Europe for the long term. Chelsea's over reliance on Ambramovitz may, on the contrary, end in tears. He may bore of his toy or, more likely, start to expect it to give the same level of return that he gets from his other businesses. At the moment, as a fan, I think I'd be happier red than blue!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Edgbaston Ashes Test Match

As published in "The Emirates Evening Post"
The second Ashes Test match - Edgbaston 4th - 7th August 2005


The last time that England played Australia in a Test match at Edgbaston in 2001 England made a decent start on the first morning of the match (despite having been put in) and were 106-1 just before lunch. Steve Waugh threw the ball to Shane Warne who, with his second ball, had Mark Butcher caught by a diving Ricky Ponting. England's innings then fell apart. Roll forward four years to Lord's 2005 when England again made a solid start in their second innings (80-0) before Warne came into the attack and immediately got rid of Trescothick - the rest of the innings then fell away to Warne, McGrath and Lee.

In looking at the prospects for the second Test which begins tomorrow it is clear that once again the key to the outcome will be how the England top and middle order copes with McGrath, Warne and Lee. Having said that, even if the England batsmen do find a way of dealing with these three fine bowlers, it would be no surprise if it were Gillespie (or Kasprowicz) who came to the aid of the Australians' party. It is in the nature of the Aussies to work as a team and very often the less heralded players are the ones who chip in if one or more of the stars has an off day. It was, for example, Clarke and Katich who set up the Australians' win at Lord's with their 155 partnership in the second innings which came at a time when England threatened to get back in the match.

England's move up to second place in the world Test rankings has also been based on teamwork and leadership. In the West Indies eighteen months ago the key to success (apart from Steve Harmison) was the solid middle order of Butcher, Hussain and Thorpe. If one of the openers was out early, and if further wickets fell, one or more of these experienced batsmen would help rebuild the innings. With all three now gone England really struggle to recover from early setbacks. At Lord's three of the middle order (Vaughan, Bell and Flintoff) scored a total of 24 runs between them in the two innings. It is this frailty which has led the selectors to call up Paul Collingwood for the Edgbaston Test, and it is likely that he will play ahead of Ashley Giles. Collingwood is a talented and gutsy cricketer, but it is asking a lot of him to perform a rescue act if once again England get into trouble.

The Australians are not unbeatable and England, with the inspirational Pietersen in the side, have the ability to put them under pressure and force a win. But for this to happen England need to play at 110% and luck needs to run their way. For the good of the remainder of the Ashes series let's hope this happens!

Day One

Psychologists tell us that there are two conventional human responses to threat or fear - the first is to flee (to hide until the threat has gone away) the second is to fight. At Edgbaston yesterday the testosterone count in the England dressing room must have broken all records as the England team responded to the disappointment of Lord's by fighting like caged animals suddenly set free. It was an exhilarating and quite extraordinary day's cricket which saw 407 runs scored in 79.2 overs - a scoring rate of more than 5 per over. To put the score in perspective if it had been a One Day match England, at this rate, would have scored 257 runs - a potentially match winning total. That England were all out in the same 79.2 overs might beg the question as to whether a slightly more measured approach could have given England a more impregnable position - but what the heck, to have the famed Aussie attack on the back foot most of the day, having lost the toss and been asked to bat, is something that most of us at Edgbaston would have settled for at the beginning of play!

The day started with the news that Glenn McGrath, the star of the Australian attack from Lord's (where he took nine wickets for 82 runs) would take no part in the match following a freak warm up injury. This seemed more to concern Australia than it boosted England who knew that Gillespie, Lee, Warne and Kasprowicz would present enough of a challenge. But the Aussie body language showed that the loss of the totemic McGrath so unexpectedly had got to them. Lee and Gillespie opened the bowling and looked almost innocuous as Trescothick and Strauss took charge. Inevitably it was to be Warne who broke this assured opening partnership at 112 just before lunch with a fizzing leg break that deceived Strauss and seared into his stumps. After lunch Vaughan looked in fine form with three elegant boundaries and he and Trescothick took the score comfortably to 164 before Trescothick edged one to Gilchrist for a brilliant 90 off only 102 balls. Immediately Bell (who continues to look out of his depth) fell to Kasprowicz and then Vaughan, letting his adrenaline levels boil over, played an appalling shot to Gillespie and Lee took a fine catch on the boundary. From 164 -1 England were 187-4 and there were some frowns on the England balcony.

When Kevin Pietersen forced his way into the England Test side to bat at 5 ahead of Flintoff at 6 many wondered what would happen if these two hit form together. Now we found out. In just over an hour at the crease they put on a hundred runs with Flintoff scoring 68 at more than a run a ball and hitting six fours and no less than 5 sixes. He fell immediately after the tea interval but Pietersen continued to play brutal but cultured cricket. Although Geraint Jones failed, Giles, Hoggard, Harmison and Simon Jones came to the party scoring 75 crucial runs between them bringing England above the psychological 400 runs total. In less then six hours of scintillating cricket England had put the ghosts of Lord's behind them.

This match has started with a mighty bang and there is every likelihood that the excitement will continue tomorrow. Australia have the fire power fully to match England's score, or more - the Ashes has come alive!

Day Two

If the definition of genius is to have the ability to do something that nobody else could do then Shane Warne is touched with that art. It was, no doubt, in anticipation of Warne bowling an over before the close of play that all the spectators stayed glued to their seats towards the end of an absorbing day's cricket at Edgbaston. Andrew Strauss must have thought that he had already had the one unplayable delivery that Warne would bowl to him in the match when he was clean bowled in England's first innings. So when Warne's second ball fizzed and turned nearly ninety degrees and uprooted all of his stumps last night Strauss will now be convinced that that Warnie has a hex on him. Whether this spell can be turned on again sufficiently on Saturday is the key to this match. On a pitch that looks like it is taking spin Shane Warne can win the match for Australia even though, overnight, they have a deficit of 124 runs and England still have nine wickets in hand.

Australia are never beaten until they are beaten and this match still has a long way to go. Nevertheless for the second day running most of the momentum has been with England. In an innings of only 3.2 overs less than England's Australia scored 99 runs fewer. Their run-rate was still a hugely respectable 4 per over but England's onslaught of the first day has given the home side a slight advantage, not least because Australia will have to bat fourth on a deteriorating wicket. The contrast with the first Test match was huge. At Lord's England had fielded as sloppily as they batted and this never gave them a chance to get back into the match. On Friday at Edgbaston England caught their catches and even achieved a superb run out when Vaughan athletically threw down the stumps to dismiss Damien Martyn. Giles, so ineffectual at Lord's, bowled well and took two crucial wickets (Ponting and Clarke, both when they were well set). Giles also took the wicket of Warne who batted as if he had an urgent appointment in the back of the pavilion with somebody and didn't want to miss it by lingering at the crease.

Whilst the Australians were in most cases victims of their own downfall that takes nothing away from a mostly aggressive and disciplined performance by the England bowlers. That these bowlers work well as a team was shown by the fact that Harmison, who bowled capably on a wicket that didn't quite suit him, was only needed to bowl eleven overs in the day. Giles (3-78), Flintoff (3-52) and Jones (2-69) did the bulk of the work and were duly rewarded.

For Australia both Langer (82) and Gilchrist (49 not out) played well within themselves whilst Ponting (61) and Clarke (40) played their natural games. Had one of these players gone on to a really big score the overnight position would be very different; that they didn't is a tribute to England's perseverance.

The weather seems set fair for day three of this intriguing battle. England will have to bat well and set Australia around 350 to be in the pound seats at close of play tomorrow. This, of course, means finding an answer to the magical spells of Australia's sorcerer in chief!

Day Three

The breathtaking pace of this extraordinary Ashes Test series continued on the third day at Edgbaston when the advantage swung back and forth between the two sides throughout another pulsating day. At stumps that advantage was firmly with England with Australia at 175-8 in their second innings still requiring another 107 runs for victory. For the second time in the series 17 wickets fell on a day - but these bare statistics tell little of the drama and the tension that held the rapt attention of everyone lucky enough to be at the ground. This was cricket at its supreme best with multi-coloured skills on display for 88.5 spellbinding overs during which no quarter was given by either side. That England finished the day on top is almost entirely attributable to one man - the remarkable Andrew Flintoff who gave one of Test cricket's greatest ever all-round performances.

The morning belonged to Australia who by lunch had England in disarray at 95-6. This was an overall lead of only 194 and had England folded early in the second session Australia would have had a target that they would have believed to be easily gettable. Warne and Lee were in fine form; Lee fired up to put his indifferent first innings bowling behind him. The England top order folded first to Lee (who accounted for Trescothick, Vaughan and night watchman Hoggard) and then Warne who first won his personal battle with Pietersen and then easily outthought Bell.

In the afternoon Flintoff, although unable initially to find an enduring partner, took the game into his own hands hitting 73 off 86 balls with ten boundaries, four of them sixes. The key to Flintoff being able to give England a tolerably respectable total of 182 was a last wicket partnership of 51 with Simon Jones who batted sensibly - as well as hitting a few good blows himself. The near doubling of England's score in the post lunch session was crucial to giving them a chance to put Australia under pressure in their second innings.

Twelve overs into their innings Australia looked to be under no pressure at all. At 47 without loss, with Langer carrying on from where he left off in the first innings and Hayden looking in some sort of form, it seemed that they were building a platform from which the Aussies could push on to victory. Michael Vaughan then brought on Flintoff who was on a hat trick having taken the last two Australian first innings wickets yesterday. The hat trick eluded Freddie, but his second ball clean bowled Langer and his sixth had Ponting caught behind for a duck. Flintoff had taken four wickets in eight balls, this success only being interrupted by his remarkable batting! As in the Aussie first innings England had then to fight hard for their wickets but all the bowlers chipped in as the Australians increasingly began to feel the pressure.

At the scheduled close of play Australia were 137-7 and then Michael Vaughan claimed an extra half hour to try and finish the job on the day. This looked to be a mistake as Shane Warne and the excellent Michael Clarke added 38 runs before Vaughan called up Steve Harmison to bowl the final over. Harmy has had an ordinary match and was well below his best pace earlier in the innings. But Vaughan must have set "Give it a real go Steve" and Harmison responded with four fast and well-directed balls the last of which destroyed Clarke's stumps.

If England, as they should, wrap up the match early tomorrow it will be their most important Test victory for years. And with only a few days to go before the Old Trafford Third test they will have the momentum. If England win it won't just be the admirable Barmy Army who will be dancing in the stands - the members might do a gentle foxtrot in the pavilion as well!

Day Four

If the cardiac unit at the Birmingham Royal Infirmary didn't have an unexpected upsurge in business around lunchtime yesterday I would be very much surprised. My cricket watching stretches back fifty years, and whilst there have been some nail-biters along the way, nothing can compare with the tension of the fourth day of the second Ashes Test at Edgbaston. There have been some tight ones - the MCG in 1982/83 (which England won by 3 runs) and again in 1998/99 spring to mind. The latter match was my first visit to the great Melbourne ground and England's win (by 12 runs) was comparatively comfortable compared with yesterday at Edgbaston - and Australia had already retained the Ashes anyway. The key point about Edgbaston 2005 was that it really mattered to both sides. If Australia had won the likelihood of England winning back The Ashes would have been small indeed. But England's win levels the series and all is to play for. This context, combined with the quality of the cricket, the fierceness of the competition, the closeness of the final result and the packed ground throughout makes this arguably the greatest, as well as the closest, Ashes Test match of all time.

For all the fierceness of the contest the game was played in a wonderful spirit. Simon Jones would be well advised to reflect on his inappropriate gesture when pointing Matt Hayden back to the pavilion, not least because it was a rare lapse of taste on either side. Perhaps Freddie Flintoff should have a quiet word with him. There was a moment just after Harmison had taken the final Australian wicket to give England the win that brought tears to my cynical old eyes. It wasn't the cavorting of the England team, but the sight of Freddie going up to Brett Lee, who was on his knees, and comforting him. Lee patted Flintoff on the back to show how much he appreciated the gesture. There is a lot of nonsense talked about "The Spirit of Cricket", much of it anachronistic hogwash. Cricket's spirit comes not from administrators and law makers but from players like Freddie and the two Captains each of whom spoke well at the end of the match, not just about the guts and talent of their own team, but also admiringly and genuinely about their opponents.

The eight days of this Ashes series so far has been cricket at its very best and there is every expectation that when the teams gather again at Old Trafford on Thursday this will continue. Australia's perfomance at Edgbaston (when they were, let's not forget, without Glenn McGrath) will not have dented their self-confidence much. But England will know that the last time they squared an Ashes series from one down (in 1981) the momentum carried them on to further improbable triumphs. History is bunk? We shall see!

Monday, July 18, 2005

Ashes Series 2005 - Preview

From: "The Emirates Evening Post"

The Ashes series 2005

On Thursday this week the most eagerly awaited cricket contest since the last World Cup will start in earnest at Lord’s Cricket Ground, London when the first Test match of the 2005 Ashes series begins. The build up to this match has been intense not least because of the late start to the series caused by the cricket authorities’ wish to raise revenues with an interminable sequence of 13 One Day Internationals over the past month. But now all that is behind us and the serious business of the summer can at last begin.

ICC Test Championship
1 Australia 132
2 England 111
3 India 107
4 Pakistan 100
5 Sri Lanka 100
6 South Africa 100
7 New Zealand 97
8 West Indies 75
9 Zimbabwe 41
10 Bangladesh 5

The significance of the series (aside from the obvious one that this is one of the oldest rivalries in sport) can be seen from the ICC’s Test Championship table which shows that the battle will be between the two best Test sides of the moment. But the table also reveals what cricket lovers around the world know, and that is that although England may (just) be Australia’s closest rival the gap between the two sides is pretty large.

Australia’s hegemony in world cricket is unparalleled in cricket history. Since they last toured England in 2001 they have played 15 series against other Test nations and their series record is Won 13; Drawn 2; Lost 0. These series have comprised 46 Test matches of which Australia has won 33 and lost only 5.

England’s record over the same period is good, and in 2004 and 2005 it is excellent - 18 Tests played, won 14, Drawn 3, Lost 1. So it is not too much of an overclaim to say that the Ashes series is a contest to decide who really the top Test nation is at the moment.

The two sides are very different in character and experience. The likely England XI on Thursday will have 326 Test caps between them; their Australian opponents will have no fewer than 730. And the average age of the Australian team is 31 to England’s average of 27, truly a battle between experience and promise.

Nowhere is “promise” more obvious than in the selection of the South African born and bred Kevin Pietersen in the England side. Pietersen burst on the international scene in South Africa earlier in the year with some blistering innings in the One Day series but his Test debut will be when he walks out against Australia this week. In some respects the timing of his arrival at the crease may be crucial to the outcome of the first match, and possibly the series. If England are 25-3 when Pietersen takes guard it will be the tyro’s wholly untested powers of application and resolve which will be to the fore. If, on the other hand, the England upper order have fired on all cylinders then a platform of (say) 300-3 may be just what Pietersen needs to give him the confidence to launch a match winning assault on a tiring Aussie attack!

In their top six England have three players who are out and out attackers (Trescothick; Pietersen and Flintoff) and three who are more balanced in their methods (Strauss; Bell and Vaughan). The bias for attack (characterised by the preference of Pietersen for Thorpe) is commendable – whether it is foolhardy we will soon find out.

The experienced Australian side have strength in depth and there are no visible chinks in their armour. England’s best hope is that the bowling attack of McGrath (age 35); Warne (35); Gillespie (30); Kasprowicz (33) may be just past their best – although the younger (28) Brett Lee, who was in good form in the One Day series, will certainly play in place of Gillespie or Kasprowicz. Australia’s batting line up is formidable; any side which has Adam Gilchrist, who averages 55.65 in test matches, at number 7 has to be pretty awesome!

By far the key moments in the first Test will be the first 40 overs of each side. If England can weather the storm of McGrath and Lee and lose no more than one wicket over this period then they could have a platform to build a decent score (if they can master Warne!). If Australia are troubled by the pace of Harmison and the accuracy of Hoggard and lose some early wickets then England might just be able to apply the screws. Strauss, Trescothick and Vaughan versus McGrath and Lee and Hayden, Langer and Ponting versus Harmy and Hoggy are appetising battles to look forward to!

Key Players


(1) Glenn McGrath. One of the greatest bowlers of all time whose nagging accuracy has been such that he averages only 21.22 runs for each of his 499 test wickets. Is he past his best or will England fire him for one last effort?

(2) Brett Lee. Has not played a Test match since January 2004 when the Indians hit him for 276 runs in the fourth Test match at Sydney. His pace and aggression may unsettle the England upper order.

(3) Shane Warne. Warne is 35 going on 16 and to see whether (like McGrath) the challenge of one last go at the Poms will bring out the best again will be a delight to watch.

(4) Adam Gilchrist. Gilchrist is a phenomenon, completely without fear and with an eye unequalled in modern cricket he can turn a match in a few overs.

(5) Ricky Ponting. This will be Ponting’s first Ashes series as Captain and he will be determined not only to follow successfully in Steve Waugh’s footsteps as captain but also to keep his place close to the top of the Test batting rankings.


(1) Steve Harmison. Which Harmison will turn up to play? The one that destroyed the West Indies and New Zealand in 2004 or the shadow that had a miserable tour of South Africa in 2004/5?

(2) Michael Vaughan. By far Vaughan’s biggest challenge in cricket awaits him. Whether he continues where he left off in his last battle with the Aussies (633 runs at 63.3) or whether the burdens of captaincy will affect his form is a key question.

(3) Andrew Strauss. Intelligent and likeable Strauss is unflappable and has made a dream start to his Test career (Averaging 55.12 in 26 innings). The Aussies will be by far his biggest test though.

(4) Ashley Giles. Under-rated, but in form, spinner who took 31 test wickets at home in 2004. Will be needed to stem the flow of runs and force mistakes from the strong Aussie batting line up.

(5) Andrew Flintoff. Lord’s will be his 48th Test match, but his first against Australia. His economical bowling and destructive batting could turn a match.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Letter in "The Observer" 10th July 2005

Letter published in "The Observer" 10th July 2005


Sadly, after more than 100 years, I feel that we must now accept that the concept of the British Isles Lions touring team has no place in the modern game of International rugby. The first two Lions tours of the professional era, under two of the world’s best Rugby managers (Graham Henry and Clive Woodward) have proved beyond doubt that a team of players, however good, thrown together just for an overseas tour, will be no match for a fully professional National team. In the amateur rugby days of the past it was the case that there was far less team building than is the norm in the modern era. So whilst New Zealand, Australia and South Africa were somewhat more familiar with one another as a team than their Lions opponents, there was not the focused permanent squad system that characterises the modern professional age. So the Lions could often compete on almost equal terms with their opponents. Today, as the events in New Zealand have proved beyond doubt, a scratch team such as the Lions will be no match for a fully professional top International team like the All Blacks who are totally familiar with one another.

Clive Woodward I think did his utmost to try and create both team awareness and a sense of unity in his Lions squad. He should not be criticised for failing because (with the benefit of hindsight perhaps) it was never going to be possible for him to match the All Blacks as a team. The same would apply to any future tours and I would envisage that the Springboks or the Wallabies would have as little trouble in beating a Lions team as the All Blacks did.

The future of Northern hemisphere rugby has to be based only on the National teams. It is Wales, Ireland, England and Scotland who should in future be the standard bearers for British Isles rugby not the Rag, Tag and Bobtail combination of players unfamiliar with one another and gathered together only for a few weeks every four years, that is the Lions.

Patrick S Briggs

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 24th May 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

One of the basic tenets of natural justice is that lawmakers should be ultimately accountable to the people over whom they exert justice. This accountability can take many forms and it is by no means only the conventional western model of a parliamentary democracy that provides necessary checks and balances on rulers. But any system that is respected by its people will be one within which they feel they have a voice and in which they feel that justice is fairly administered. Don't worry, gentle reader, "Paddy's Sports View" has not suddenly morphed into a column about constitutional law. But I have been musing on the principles of justice because of what I see to be a trend of increasingly authoritarian and unaccountable behaviour by the rulers of world cricket the International Cricket Council (ICC).

If you have an idle moment I recommend that you visit the ICC’s website, not because it is particularly exciting, but because you will see there in sharp relief the full panoply of the ICC’s hegemony over world cricket. Included on the site are the “Playing Conditions for Test matches” (24 pages) and for One Day Internationals (30 pages); the ICC Code of Conduct for players (30 pages) and umpires (6 pages) as well as a plethora of other documents which are apparently necessary to govern world cricket today. These also include a four page description of the “Principles of Natural Justice” which clearly seeks to legitimise the ICC’s disciplinary controls. However nowhere in these self created “principles” is there an acknowledgment that for the actions of a law maker to be seen to be fair they must be seen to be accountable to those that they govern.

We are only a few months into the cricketing year and already there have been (believe it or not) nineteen instances of the ICC "court" passing sentences on cricketers for breaches of their "Code of Conduct". So far eight Pakistan players, Kaneira, Akhtar, Razzaq and Inzamam (four times); two Indians, Balaji and Ganguly (twice); one Bangladeshi, Haque; two Zimbabweans, Taylor and Taibu; five South Africans, Kallis, Langeveldt, Ntini and Smith (twice) and one Englishman, Vaughan, have been disciplined. In 2004 there were thirty-four instances of ICC discipline compared with twenty the year before. The workload of the ICC judges is on the increase!

It is difficult to discover what the views of cricketers are on the subject of the ICC’s exercising of its power because for them to criticise what the ICC does would in itself be a breach of the ICC’s own code of conduct and would lead to the player being disciplined! But there are signs that the ICC’s own paymasters (the boards of control of the cricketing nations) are getting frustrated. Recently we have seen Indian board supporting its player Harbhajan Singh in his battle with the ICC over his bowling action. It is only if the individual boards continue to do this that there is any possibility of change.

Whilst the ICC’s “Principles of Natural Justice” do state that players have the right to a fair hearing and to expect that there will be no bias in judgements they nowhere say that the players have any rights in the determination of the processes in the first place. The fact that players are neutered in the ICC’s rule that they must not make any comments about the rulings of officials during (or even after) matches has led to a number of disciplinary procedures (including that against England captain Michael Vaughan earlier this year). This is a clear negation of the principle of natural justice called “freedom of speech” – not surprisingly this is not a principle that appears anywhere in the ICC’s volumes of codes.

The power of the ICC is far too great, in inhibits players, officials and even the executives of ICC member countries from participating in proper debate. It treats the players, in particular, as if they are recalcitrant schoolboys who can only be controlled if volumes of rules are applied to them and if they are disciplined for every breach. I believe that if you want good behaviour from your players the best way to get that is to make them active partners in what you do. The ICC’s rules would be respected far more by players if these players (and/or their representatives) had been part of the process of their creation and if they were active participants in their application.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 17th May 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

Amir Khan, the talented young British boxer of Pakistani descent who won a silver medal at the Athens Olympics, has fought his last amateur fight. After he gained revenge over Mario Kindelan (the man who beat him in Athens) in a fight last weekend in Bolton it was announced that Khan would turn professional immediately. Few would blame this young man for seeking to cash in on his skills and few will be surprised that the money hungry world of professional boxing has welcomed his arrival with glee. For every dollar earned by Khan another dollar (or more) will go to the string of managers, promoters and hangers on who will exploit his talent.

The world of professional boxing is poles apart from its amateur equivalent. Fights are far longer and much more gruelling in the professional game. But the most significant difference is that in professional boxing the contestants do not wear head guards which means that attacks by one fighter on the head of another are a normal part of the tactics. And it is this aspect of the sport that is its biggest source of controversy and shame. Can you imagine what it is like to have your head pummelled continuously for more than thirty minutes by an opponent whose primary purpose is to knock you senseless? Amateur boxing is a tough sport and undeniably physical, but a contest is won not by trying to make your opponent unconscious but by more skilfully scoring hits on his body or on his well protected head (rather like fencing). A good amateur boxer will seek to intimidate and tire his opponent - but that is part of many sports (ask a Rugby front row forward!).

The earliest sporting events involved gladiatorial contests and fights to the death. And very thrilling it must have been for the spectator as well (as anyone who saw the movie "Gladiator" can confirm). But societies in the modern world are supposed to be rather more civilised and whilst sporting contests can be tough, physical and mentally demanding there is no legal sport, other than professional boxing, where the primary intention is to put your opponent in a comatose state. The vocabulary of boxing surrounds this objective. We talk about a "Knock out" or a "KO" and about finishing "inside the distance" and the crowds at the events all contribute to this by literally baying for blood if they see one fighter getting on top. And blood they will most likely see as the gloves of the boxers open up wounds around the eyes of their opponents. In the corner at the end of a round the boxer's seconds will work on the damaged eyes trying to stem the flow of blood so that he can return to the ring for more punishment. Even if he is badly injured and behind on points there is always the chance that one of his punches will land a telling blow and the contest will be resolved in his favour. So "back you go and try and put him down - you can still win this one Champ".

The world that Amir Khan is now entering is a sport with more corruption and criminality in it than any other. The amounts of money that a good fighter can generate for himself and others are so high that it is inevitable that the sport has large dark shadowy areas in it away from the glitz and the glamour. The history of professional boxing is littered with the debris of fixed fights, dysfunctional and greedy promoters and crime syndicates. Whilst there is undoubtedly a nobility about a great athlete like Mohamed Ali for every Ali there is a Mike Tyson ( a vicious thug in and out of the ring whose bad boy image was hyped up even further by promoters keen to sell tickets).

Beat somebody continuously around the head for years and you will do him permanent damage. Is there any sight sadder than the old scarfaced boxer stumbling unsteadily to his feet to acknowledge the cheers of a crowd who knew him in his prime. Well yes, actually, there is. That is the sight of the coffin of a young man whose brain was damaged beyond repair in a fight and who paid the ultimate price for others greed. It has happened all too often, and it will happen again, until this barbaric "sport" finally goes the way of the gladiators.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 10th May 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

The English Premier league is arguably, along with "Serie A" in Italy and "La Liga" in Spain, the strongest in the world. The Premiership is divided into three very distinct tiers. The super clubs who play in Europe and have the best players and finances (Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool); the middle tier some of whom aspire to join the elite (Newcastle, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur…) and the lower tier whose sole real ambition is to avoid the fatal drop away from the top tier (the rest).

The top clubs enjoy enthusiastic support across the globe. Over the past few years the best Italian and Spanish teams of AC Milan, Real Madrid and Barcelona have had the edge in European competitions and the English clubs (Manchester United sole success in 1999 aside) have generally under-performed. Liverpool's recent achievement in getting to the Champions League final (and Chelsea's near miss) can be attributed to the fact that both clubs have managers used to European success. Raphael Benitez at Liverpool and Jose Mourinho at Chelsea understand that to win against continental opposition requires a different style and tactics from what is needed in domestic competitions.

The English league is very internationally visible and Premiership matches are important parts of the sports TV schedules almost everywhere. This is a source of actual or potential revenues to the clubs and the red shirts of Manchester United and Arsenal, and increasingly the blue of Chelsea, are seen on the street from Tokyo to Timbuktu. The Manchester club's revenues from the exploitation of their brand are a major contribution to their resources helping them to afford to buy and pay good players. In a league where increasingly money talks all the revenue streams have to be pursued, unless (like Chelsea) the club is owned by a billionaire with bottomless pockets.

In England the neutrals were delighted with Liverpool's Champions league semi-final success against Chelsea, not least because the win showed that whilst money helps it cannot guarantee success. To be fair to Chelsea, Morinho and the other official at the club know this as well. Although the investment in players has run into the hundreds of million dollars the real reason for their Premier League success this year and their emergence as a real force on the European stage, has been the successful gelling of super stars into an effective team. This has never really been the case at Real Madrid a club which has spent much more than all the top English clubs together over the years, but which has had only the occasional success. Money helps - but consistent success needs more than the handy use of the chequebook.

In North London the respective fortunes of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur over the past ten years show that consistency of management, team building and a clear footballing philosophy are the factors which make the difference. The Spurs have a club with a tradition almost as famous as their North London neighbours. They were the first team to do the Cup and League double in the twentieth century, in 1960/61, but they have not won the league championship since. Meanwhile Arsenal has enjoyed great success in both domestic competitions and with their great rivals at Manchester United, has dominated the English scene for a decade or more. The Chairman of Tottenham Hotspur said at the last AGM of the club that the Spurs had probably outspent Arsenal over this same period, but with little or nothing to show for it. It's not just how much you spend - it's how you spend it that counts.

Whilst on the face of it the English Premier league may seem to be a successful enterprise there are some gathering clouds around. Bad behaviour by players and occasionally by managers (on and off the field) damages the standing of the clubs and of the league. And the escalation in pay has been such that some club's finances are very rocky indeed. This is the real problem with the Abramovitch effect (he is Chelsea's Russian paymaster). In assembling a team of all the talents he has done so (in part) by offering more money to players than any other club can afford. Whilst Chelsea's finances are secure that of some of their competitors are not and even Arsenal, with a new stadium to pay for, may struggle to get or keep the best players if Chelsea is in the running. `

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 3rd May 2005

From “The Emirates Evening Post” 3rd May 2005

Pakistan’s first ever Twenty20 cricket tournament was concluded in Lahore at the weekend with great success. 30,000 spectators clearly had an enjoyable day and Pakistan cricket has received a timely boost to its funds. No wonder the PCB has declared that this form of the game will have a regular place in the domestic season. At international level the first ever Twenty20 match took place in February at Auckland and it was both a cricketing and a popular success - nearly 400 runs were scored by the two sides at close to 10 runs per over.

There are those who feel that Twenty20 is not a genuine form of the game. For example the respected commentator, and ex Test star, Michael Holding has said "What is the point of telling youngsters to watch the game but not to copy the players' techniques? It is not cricket and is a total waste of time.” Holding’s criticism seems to be mainly that the batting technique required to score at ten an over is detrimental to the more pure and elegant style required of the longer form of the game. I think that this underestimates the talents of the really good batsmen who, if they are to succeed, have to be able to adapt their game to any circumstances. A few years ago there was a Test match between England and Sri Lanka at Old Trafford which was badly hit by the weather. After a few days of restricted play England managed to dismiss Sri Lanka late on day 5 and give themselves a chance of a surprise win. To achieve this, however, they needed to score 50 runs in six overs! Trescothick and Vaughan assaulted the Sri Lankan bowling attack to such an extent that they got the runs in five overs – a “Twenty20” scoring rate in a Test match. The point of this story is to illustrate that most cricket is not a continuum of activity but that it always has peaks and troughs. There will be moments even in Test cricket when very rapid scoring indeed is required, and there are certainly periods in One Day (50 over) games when consolidation is necessary. So at the very least Twenty20 can be seen as providing good practice for batsmen to prepare them when they need to score quickly in Tests or ODIs (and for bowlers in trying to prevent them doing this). Once the ball leaves the bat, of course, the fielding task is the same in any form of cricket so Twenty20 should help sharpen fielding skills as well.

The great benefit of Twenty20 is that it brings in new spectators and that income from the competitions goes into the development of the game. Some of the new spectators will come to One Day and Test cricket, although they will have to be a little more patient in their wait for fireworks! What is essential is that a balance is struck between the various forms of the game and that there is no presumption that any one form is superior to the other. Rather than this being inimical to the history of the game it is in fact quite consistent as cricket has always had many forms. In the nineteenth century cricket was played over one day, two days, three days or four days. There were handicap matches when Twenty-two players from a weaker club would play eleven from a stronger club. There were single wicket competitions (one to one match ups) and many other variants. Even Test cricket over the years has been played over three, four, five or more days (including “timeless” Tests, the longest of which was spread over eleven days!).

Whether we are talking about timeless Tests or forty over thrashes cricket is cricket and we need to keep flexible and open-minded about new forms of the game and also about changes to established forms. In this respect I think that one of the good lessons from twenty20 is that it ought to make us look again at One Day International rules. ODI innings sometimes become rather bogged down in that period between the end of the fifteenth over (when the fielding restrictions are lifted) and the thirty-fifth (when the chase to build a total or get a score to win) begins in earnest. Perhaps One Day cricket should learn from Twenty20 and find a way of tweaking the rules so that interest is maintained throughout?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 26th April 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

The look on the face of the President of Ferrari said it all – “The gods must be against us”. Luca di Montezemolo is not a man who hides his emotions and when Michael Schumacher made a rare mistake and left the track during final qualifying at San Marino it was just too much for the Ferrari boss. His face and his body language expressed not just disappointment but also revealed that he knew that a supreme opportunity to regain momentum in the 2005 Formula 1 season had been lost. Montezemolo feared that the hard work over the previous three weeks to get their 2005 car competitive had been negated by one tiny error of judgment by his star driver. Schumacher was to have to start from fourteenth on the grid and surely there was no possibility that even he could win from so far back? Maybe if there was rain and he could use his mastery in the wet to cut through the field – not on a dry track and with tyres which so far this season had been uncompetitive.

Michael Schumacher is not normally a man who needs any extra incentives to compete at his best – even after 83 Grand Prix victories and seven drivers’ titles. But the look of thunder on his team president’s face may just have been the spur that Schumi needed to give the performance of his life in this Grand Prix. And Schumacher’s efforts, which all so nearly succeeded, have also contributed to further raising the interest and excitement of this remarkable Formula 1 season. Make no mistake about it at the beginning of the year F1 was on the ropes. For some, Ferrari’s (and Schumacher’s) utter dominance took interest away from the sport. Combine this with political and financial troubles in the administration of F1, and disarray in some teams, and the prospects for the season were gloomy. Ferrari’s early season troubles with a sub-standard car and real problems with their Bridgestone tyres created an opening into which the Renault team and (in particular) Fernando Alonso gratefully jumped. Alonso has been outstanding and there is no fluke at all in his hat trick of wins.

When Michael Schumacher won his first Grand Prix at Spa in 1992 at the age of 23 Alonso was eleven years old - so they are almost a Grand Prix generation apart. Alonso was even younger than Schumacher when he had his first Grand Prix win last year - and this year the young Spaniard has shown that, without question, he has the potential to succeed Schumacher…in due course! I still think that Schumi and Ferrari have the time to turn the 2005 season around and although the twenty-six point gap in the Drivers' world championship, and the twenty-eight point deficit in the Constructors' world championship, will take some catching up I think that they can do it. There are still fifteen races to go in the 2005 season and anything can happen. The key is reliability. If the Ferraris and the Renaults are equally reliable through the rest of the season then Alonso may already have the championship in the bag. The extent of Schumacher’s task is clear. If he wins all the remaining Grands Prix, and Alonso finishes second in them, then it would be Schumacher’s eighth championship – but only by four points. But if Ferrari does start winning consistently, and Renault falter, then Schumacher could have a much more comfortable championship win.

Looking back over the past few seasons it has not only been the brilliance of Schumacher, and the overall power of the Ferrari that has been the reason for their success. Reliability has also played a crucial part. Even when Schumacher did not win his car would reliably deliver championship points - and similarly Rubens Barrichello would come up with the positions which would help deliver the constructors’ title. Whilst some teams have challenged from time to time, these challenges have always faded away. No team has established anything like the reliability of Ferrari and that is now the challenge for Renault. They have a young, hungry and supremely talented driver in Fernando Alonso who, after four Grands Prix, has a commanding lead in the drivers’ championship. Can the engineers and the technical team of Renault now deliver the race after race reliability that a championship win will require? It will be fascinating to see!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 19th April 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

Whilst we should perhaps guard against making too strong a claim about the role that cricket has played in the growing political rapprochement between India and Pakistan there is no doubt that the resumption on the field of play has been helpful. The visit of the Pakistan President to New Delhi for the deciding One Day International was both a symbol of the moves towards a permanent peace and an acknowledgement that the shared love of the game of cricket across the two nations can continue to help this process.

The extent of the historic differences between India and Pakistan has understandably cast a long shadow over the cricket pitches for too long. Following the first Test match between the nations in 1952 (Pakistan's first ever Test match) there were regular matches for eight years before the politicians put a stop to cricket for seventeen years. Over those first fifteen Test matches it is possible to detect that the growing political tensions had their affect on play. Whilst the first three matches produced results the next twelve were all drawn - pitches and tactics were such that perhaps neither side could risk the loss of face that losing would have meant with their supporters. After the long gap play resumed again in 1978 when for the first time One Day Internationals were also included in the schedules. Ten years later politics once again intervened and between 1990 and 1998 there was another hiatus with no Test matches and only the occasional One Day International on neutral grounds such as Sharjah or Toronto. Although these matches were often rather tense affairs (and the security officials sometimes had their work cut out keeping the rival spectators apart) the relations between the two teams were generally friendly.

The last India/Pakistan ODI at Sharjah was in March 2000 when, as I recall, Inzamam-ul-Haq had one of his more remarkable days hitting a hundred at better than a run a ball and scoring boundaries all around the ground. The records show that India played Pakistan twenty-four times at Sharjah between 1983 and that last match with Pakistan winning this long "series" easily (by 18 games to 6). It is now two years since the last ODI of any sort at the Sharjah Cricket Ground and there are no prospects for an immediate return of top international cricket to Sharjah. I hope that the long innings of this ground has not drawn to a close - especially as the number of matches is just short of a double century. But whatever happens the CBFS and Sharjah can reflect with pride that when politics prevented India and Pakistan touring each other's countries they kept the cricketing flame alive.

The third politics induced break in regular India v Pakistan matches came after Pakistan's tour to India in 1998/9 but fortunately this was to be the shortest of gaps - let us hope that it is also the last. There is little doubt that India's visit to Pakistan for three Test matches and five ODIs in 2003/4 and the return tour in India, which has just finished, has produced good closely fought cricket. There were positive results in all but one of the six Tests which India edged 3-2, and some sparkling play in the One-Dayers won by Pakistan 7-5. Overall honours even. But more important than what took place on the field was the fact that cricket has been a catalyst for the coming together of both political leaders and the peoples of the two nations.

International conflicts such as that between India andd Pakistan which have endured for generations have only done so because of deep seated problems and antipathies, which it would be wrong to minimise. When I have written before about the role of cricket as a peacemaker in the Sub-continent my postbag has often received heartfelt letters which illustrate how deep the resentments are. There has been so much suffering in the past that to talk of cricket may sometimes seem trivial. But to see the Pakistani president and the Indian Prime Minister together at New Delhi was, I think, a defining moment. Let us hope so.

Finally back to Sharjah. Perhaps it is wishful thinking but it wouldn't it be fitting if the positive role that Sharjah played over the years in India/Pakistan cricket could be recognised with a special "Peace" tournament taking place there once an enduring political reconciliation is signed between the two nations?

Monday, April 18, 2005

Heroes and Villians

From "yes no sorry" Volume 4 Issue 1

Heroes and Villains
Paddy Briggs

How Basil D’Oliveira and Nasser Hussain became symbols of all that is good in cricket – and how the cricket administrators of their eras thirty-five years apart conspired to try and defeat them

Two books have been published in recent months which, though very different and about two very different characters, give truth to the saying "What know they of cricket who only cricket know". Nasser Hussain's autobiography "Playing with Fire"[1] and Peter Oborne's perceptive and informed telling of the life of Basil D'Oliveira[2] make equally explicit who the heroes and villains were in their lives. And although these cricketing lives were lived more than a generation apart they give further proof to the adage "The only thing that we learn from the study of history is that we learn nothing from history". The amorality, deceit, intransigence and insensitivity that characterised the woeful behaviour of sporting administrators in Basil's summer of 1968 was more than matched by what Nass had to put up with in the South African summer of 2003.

Coincidentally both Hussain and D'Oliveira are both of mixed-race parentage and whilst race was, of course, central to Dolly's story it also played a not insignificant part in Nasser's cricket life. In an article quoted in Oborne's book John Arlott wrote presciently in August 1968 of the MCC's decision to leave D'Oliveira out of the South African tour party; "… within a few years, the British-born children of West India, India, Pakistani and African immigrants will be worth places in English county and national teams…the MCC's... decision must be a complete deterrent to any young coloured cricketer in this country". Nasser Hussain had been born that very year in Madras and if the ethos of MCC's then position had been sustained it is hardly likely that his father Joe would have brought him and the rest of his family to England a few years later!

Dolly and Nass are in their very different ways heroes of the struggle of cricketers to stand up for what is right, and to be role models of their cricketing times. Peter Oborne tells the moving story of Dolly's childhood in apartheid ravaged Cape Town in the post war years. His prodigious talent was visible early but, of course, he had no chance to fulfil his promise because top cricket in the country was a whites only affair. As a Cape Coloured (the descendants of the mixed white/black relationships of the early decades of the country's history) D'Oliveira was prohibited from moving outside the racially defined boundaries which imprisoned his people. In fact Dolly was light brown in colour and the great fast bowler Wes Hall once told him "In the West Indies you would have counted as a white man!" No matter, Dolly's hated pass (which had to be carried by all non-whites) classified him as coloured, and that was that.

Thanks to John Arlott, the Lancashire league club Middleton and later Worcestershire D'Oliveira was able to pursue a cricket career. Arlott had taken up his cause and Middleton had taken the risk of employing him. After a slow start he succeeded and within a year or two he had qualified for England and was in the Test side. In 1966 and 1967 he scored a total of nearly six hundred runs at an average of 48. He had made himself a fixture in the England side and although there was a hiccup on the West Indies tour of 1966-68 ,and he also suffered form a loss of form in the early part of the 1968 Australian tour summer, he came back for the final two tests scoring a memorable century at the Oval. It seemed certain that he would be chosen for the South Africa tour that winter. Peter Oborne has unravelled with forensic skill the conspiracy, which led to D'Oliveira not being selected, and it reflects extremely badly on the English cricket establishment of the time. In short the selectors, the wider MCC committee and the MCC membership as a whole were of the opinion that "bridge-building" was better than a boycott where South Africa was concerned. England's captain Colin Cowdrey took the same view "Sport", he said at the time, "is still one of the most effective bridges in linking peoples and I am convinced that it is right that I should lead MCC to South Africa." Oborne shows how without Cowdrey's support (despite the fact that it had been promised by him to D'Oliveira) the selectors rejected D'Oliveira on "cricketing grounds alone". This was a charade and although the case for Dolly's inclusion was not water tight, there is not much doubt that factors other than the purely cricketing played a crucial part. The selectors (or enough of them) knew that a touring party with D'Oliveira in it would be rejected by Vortser's Apartheid government (as it was when, in response to huge public interest and pressure, Dolly was belatedly selected when another player dropped out through injury). The cricket establishment had initially conspired to put the retention of white South Africa in the international arena ahead of principle - and they were quite prepared that Basil D’Oliveira should be a casualty of that imperative if needs be.

Roll forward thirty-five years and you might hope and expect that times would have sufficiently changed that the sort of tunnel vision coming from Lord’s in 1968 would all have disappeared in our modern more enlightened age. Not a bit of it. The opening chapter in Nasser Hussain’s book tells in chilling detail how the ICC put profit, pride and prejudice before principle in 2003 at the time of the Cricket World Cup. The issue was, of course, Zimbabwe and whether it was appropriate for England to play a World Cup match in Bulawayo. Nasser led from the front as this issue came to the boil -he wore his heart on his sleeve and he is the only one to come out of this sordid affair with any credit. As was the case in 1968 the cricket administrators were either vacillating and weak (the ECB) or pig-headed and offensive (the ICC).

At a meeting in Cape Town just before the World Cup started Nasser Hussain fronted up to Malcolm Speed of the ICC and he summaries his dealings with him as follows “… I never detected [in Speed] an interest in the spirit and future of the game…the priority was always money”. Speed was not only unyielding he was also contemptuous of England’s captain. Speed cut off the discussion after an inadequate half and hour and when Nass protested, Speed walked dismissively away. The ECB was almost as bad for although he had unanimous support from his fellow English players Nasser received no support at all from England cricket’s administrators at this crucial time. Hussain is particularly critical of the “unctuous” and “unsatisfactory” Tim Lamb who he felt was only interested in “trying to safeguard his own position”. The ECB turned to “emotional blackmail in an attempt to force us into going [to Zimbabwe]”. So Nasser was treated with contempt by one of the leaders of world cricket (Malcolm Speed) and was threatened by his employer the ECB – and all because cricket obsessive ‘though he is he was aware enough to know that when it comes to playing games in countries governed by racist dictators you must take a moral stand and say “thanks but no thanks”.

In the end, of course, England did not tour South Africa in 1968/69 and nor did they go to Zimbabwe in 2003. In both cases if those in charge had seen earlier that to play games in these countries in the prevailing circumstances was wrong then a great deal of heartache and distress could have been avoided. Basil D’Oliveira is today rightly a symbol of what the “Spirit of Cricket” means and Nasser Hussain is one of the Spirit’s most vigorous and articulate proponents. If only cricket administrators had a small part of the principles of these two heroes the world of cricket would be a better place.

[1] Published by Michael Joseph at £17.99
[2] Published by Little, Brown at £16.99